AP/Jason DeCrow
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, Newtown, Conn.
AP/Jason DeCrow

Teachers know that when students come up against a problem, it’s best to help them find their own way to the answer. The lesson sticks a little stronger, and the students gain confidence to face the next problem.

After the Dec. 14 shooting and killing of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., we are all students again. It seems that there is no answer.

So we take what we know and piece it together to create… a story. This is an amazing story. It has tragedy, heroism, a villain. I teach stories for a living, and part of me wants to read this story and have it fill me up until I’m bursting with its imagery and messages.

Of course, that’s not enough for us. We’re deep into the series now, which includes Columbine High School and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The imagery is similar, the messages incomplete.

I’m not looking for a novel anymore. I’m looking for directions.

Tomorrow I’ll do my best to look my seventh graders in the eye while I listen and offer whatever help I can. I will find the words to address the problem, but I’d sleep better knowing that I used the same skills I teach my students to help me find my place in the solution.

ASSIGNMENT. Clearly and concisely describe how you, if you were a character in the gun violence series, could help prevent there being a sequel.

STEP 1: Review the story elements.

Setting: school, United States, modern day Characters: antagonist – disturbed young man; protagonists – children/teachers; minor characters: police, parents, medical examiners, politicians, activists, protesters Plot: Gunman fires on and kills innocent people inside a school (see also: outside a church, inside a movie theater, inside a mall, at a rally)

STEP 2: Brainstorm answers (try not to edit yourself)

My job is to work with all students, and some of them could one day hurt someone else. I know that my job is not to prevent turns that their lives will take or fix their brain chemistry. My job is to inspire a love of learning. Short of that, I’ll settle for an appreciation of reading and writing.

What could I do? Given the pattern of the plot, I would use what influence I have as a teacher to identify, guide, and build up the confidence of boys and girls who seem like life has drained out of them and have lost touch with reality. I could set an example as someone with communication skills and keep better in touch with their parents and guardians.

I could serve as a stronger link between my classroom and a student’s home, church, and after-school program. I could find out why they were missing so much school. I could find out what they care about and what makes them more than just a grade.

I could allow them to express their fears in writing or in artwork, and not be afraid to confront something that seems disturbing and talk about it with the child. I also won’t hesitate to report anything that I see to a parent or guidance counselor or police if necessary.

STEP 3: Address alternate opinions of your argument.

“Your solution doesn’t stop the raving lunatic who just gets a gun and starts firing. What can you do about that?”

I can keep my students informed about lock-down procedures, always keep my keys on me, and protect them.

“Isn’t it parents’ faults for not raising good children?”

It’s not my place to say what they need to do. You never know what goes on outside of your life.

“Your argument is short-sighted. You should be doing more to rally the community together.”


STEP 4: Write your first draft.

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